Yes I know it's May and we're supposed to be dancing around the May Pole eating strawberries, but it's forty-five degrees and cloudy in Chicago, and what I really want is a bowl of hot soup and a Friday Night Lights binge.
I got this recipe from Sarah Balliet, cellist in Murder by Death (I interviewed them for Paste), who got it from her mother, and it's the best lentil soup I've ever had. I balked at Balliet's instructions to dice the vegetables extremely small ("each piece should be roughly the size of a lentil") but I did my best and it was worth the effort. Also I've never before thickened lentil soup with a brothy roux, and now I always will.
My version below is a vegan take on the recipe, with carnivorous variations in parenthesis.
1 lb. lentils, rinsed and drained
8 tablespoons olive oil (or butter), divided (less if you use real bacon)
4 slices tempeh "bacon" (or regular bacon), diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 green peppers, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Minced parsley, optional
In a large soup pot, bring 2.5 quarts of water to a boil, add lentils, reduce heat, and cook 1 hour at a low boil.
In a deep skillet over medium heat, warm 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add tempeh bacon and stir often to brown evenly, about 10-15 minutes. (Or cook bacon in skillet sans olive oil until cooked and crispy). Remove "bacon" (or bacon) and set aside. Check the amount of oil (or fat) in the skillet and add a little more oil (or butter) if it looks like less than four tablespoons. Add onions and cook over medium heat, 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the rest of the vegetables and cook 10 more minutes or so--don't brown.
After lentils have cooked 1 hour, add vegetables and pretend or real bacon and bring mixture to a slow simmer.
In the skillet you used to cook the vegetables, over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons olive oil (or butter). Add flour and stir 1-2 minutes until it smells toasty. Add vegetable (or chicken) broth and whisk well until smooth and thick. Add mixture to soup pot along with plenty of salt. Simmer ten minutes. Stir in red wine vinegar, taste and adjust seasoning, garnish with optional parsley, and serve hot.